In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, an over-mined moon explodes resulting in a flat shockwave emanating out into space. It's been commented this has no bearing in real astronomy, despite being used in several other films and series.

So what inspired the Praxis Effect?

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2 Answers 2


The imagery of the destruction of my namesake in Star Trek VI, which has become known as the "Praxis effect", was created by Industrial Light & Magic. The final form of the effect was the result of conversations between their Computer Graphics division and director Nicholas Meyer.

Meyer was influenced by The Poseidon Adventure — specifically, an immense tidal wave striking the Poseidon. Meyer wanted a "wave" to strike the Excelsior, to give an idea of the scale of the blast, just as the Poseidon lends a scale to the size of the water wave.

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The implication here is that the restricted height of the wavefront (making it seem two-dimensional from a distance) gives us an idea of the scale of the explosion, from the fact that the wavefront fills the entire screen when we see it strike the Excelsior. The whole effect was in service to this goal.

This genesis of the "Praxis effect" is discussed in:

Altman, Mark. "Star Trek VI: The Making of The Undiscovered Country". Cinefantastique 22 (5): 24–55 (April 1992).

  • Are you saying that the whole reason the expanding wave is a ring is so that it has a limited height, because then as in your last picture, so can get an idea of the scale of the explosion from the fact the limited height in the wide view envelops the entire screen and ship in the close up? Aug 21, 2015 at 20:00
  • @ThePopMachine : That seems to be the implication.
    – Praxis
    Aug 21, 2015 at 20:03
  • 2
    I'd suggest making that implication a little more explicit Aug 21, 2015 at 20:05
  • BTW, I'd kind of assumed that part of the motivation was that an expanding surface doesn't look like anything (just and expanding ball) so wouldn't look very cool and would be difficult to understand. It just wouldn't convey what happened even if it was physically accurate. Aug 21, 2015 at 20:08
  • @ThePopMachine : Edits done. That definitely makes sense (about an expanding ball obscuring what is happening). In any case, what's in the answer is what is citable.
    – Praxis
    Aug 21, 2015 at 20:12

Supernovas. The shockwaves of a supernova are frequently pointed out in astronomy, because it's one of the more spectacular effects visible with a telescope. The shockwaves from a supernova explosion can ionize the stellar gasses, causing some pretty awesome visuals. They are spherical shockwaves, but of course we can only see them in two dimensions from our vantage point.

I believe that special effects draw on that popular image of a shockwave causes gasses in space to fluoresce as the realistic 'root' that the unrealistic special effect is based on.

Here are some real astronomical images of supernovae remnants:

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    This needs a canonical reference. Otherwise it's just speculation. Therefore downvote. This should not be an accepted answer without a reference, @Pureferret Aug 21, 2015 at 14:53
  • @Praxis: I believe you should give it a go. Aug 21, 2015 at 14:54
  • @ThePopMachine : I'll work on it. ;-)
    – Praxis
    Aug 21, 2015 at 19:39
  • @ThePopMachine : Done.
    – Praxis
    Aug 21, 2015 at 19:57

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